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TV show-running couples: the ultimate working marriage

Married partners for 'Big Love,' 'The Good Wife,' 'Blue Bloods' and other series say working and living together is an intense experience, but it makes sense to them.

March 06, 2011|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Colette Burson and her husband, Dmitry Lipkin, creators and producers of the HBO series "Hung," are photographed inside the writers room for the show at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles.
Colette Burson and her husband, Dmitry Lipkin, creators and producers… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

Showtime's new comedy "Episodes," which recently concluded its first season, follows the adventures of a married couple in Hollywood as they adapt their British hit show to American TV. This being television, they are assailed by all manner of sexual and social silliness, but the show is still a rare example of art imitating life. Currently, at least a half-dozen successful shows, including "Big Love," "The Good Wife" and "Blue Bloods," are being run by writers who not only work but also sleep together. When they sleep. Which isn't often. At least not during production.

Show runners: In the Calendar section elsewhere in this edition, an article about TV show runners who are married and work together quotes Robert King as saying that he and his wife, Michelle, need to turn in a new script for "The Good Wife" every four days. They need to turn in a script every eight days. The error was discovered after the section went to press. —

Writing partnerships are the norm in Hollywood, and it is not unusual to have the co-creators of a television show oversee the writing and making of each episode (show running, in native parlance). But married show runners are far from standard, possibly because it seems such utter madness.

Imagine a world in which you and your spouse together write, pitch, sell, cast, staff and then make a television show — 12 episodes for cable, 22 for network. Writing is the easy part, the fun part, the part that you now barely have time to do because you now are managing writers' rooms, actors and budgets, discussing with your spouse every living little detail, before and after the notes from network executives inform you what you're doing wrong.

"It just never stops," says Robert King, who with his wife, Michelle, created and produces "The Good Wife" for CBS. "Every four days, we need to turn in a new script."

FOR THE RECORD: An article about TV show runners who are married and work together quotes Robert King as saying he and his wife, Michelle, need to turn in a new script for "The Good Wife" every four days. They need to turn in a script every eight days.

"We have to carve out time to think," says Robin Green, who with her husband, Mitchell Burgess, writes and executive produces CBS' "Blue Bloods." "Someone asks me something and I say, 'I need time to think about that,' and I mean I have to make time. To think."

Many previously strong unions have disintegrated under far less strain — the dreaded kitchen remodel or the simple act of pitching the family tent — and inevitably, on set or off, there are going to be, well, moments. "There's going to be conflict when all the old baggage comes out," says Mark V. Olsen, who created and produces "Big Love" with his husband, Will Scheffer. "The famous line around here is: 'You wouldn't talk to anyone else in the writers' room like that.' There are sections of the 210," he adds, "where we regularly scream our guts out at each other."

"You will disagree on what[ever] you are invested in," says Dmitry Lipkin, who with his wife, Colette Burson, created and produces "Hung" for HBO. "It's not something I would recommend if your marriage is in trouble," adds Burson.

"You do annoy each other," says Green, with the matter-of-factness born of experience — she and Burgess have been working together for almost 20 years. "We get on each other's nerves at the same time each day — 2 o'clock."

"2:30," corrects Burgess. "I fade at 3."

"Harsh words are exchanged," says Green. "We say heated things, and it must terrify the people who can hear through the walls. One time," she adds, laughing, "we actually had our hands around each other's necks."

So why on Earth would two people who claim to love each other choose do this?

Because it's the only way it works for them.

"I don't know how you would do this job without your partner," says Green. "If you didn't work with him, you'd never see him. And no man would put up with being married to a show runner unless he was doing it too."

That is the sentiment shared by each of the five couples interviewed for this story. Running a show, they say, is such an overwhelming commitment of time, energy and passion that working without your spouse would be tantamount to having another one on the side.

"I thought I wanted to be a show runner alone," says Scheffer. "Now it's something I would never do on my own. The sacrifice is pursuing your own individual voice," he adds, "but that is so much less than sharing this process. I don't know if it would be worth it to do it another way."

'Do you take this writer?'

Though none of them met cute in some writers' room, everyone's courtship involved the early exchange of pages, even the Kings, who met in a shoe store where they were both working. "I was trying to write screenplays," says Robert King. "I would write something and hand it to Michelle."

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